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No more paper: efficient mobile access management with tablets for hazardous areas

15 July 2021

As part of a digitisation offensive, a petrochemical company in East Asia has adopted ECOM Instruments’ Tab-Ex® tablet series for hazardous areas to help speed up its processes.

South Korea's industry is going digital – one reason for this change are definitely the incentives provided by the South Korean government. For companies in the oil and gas industry as well as in the petrochemical industry, the challenge is to adapt the technologies required for the digitization of processes to their special requirements especially in terms of safety. The devices have to be certified for DZ1 and DZ2, to name just one challenge.
Core of the planned digitalisation strategy of a petrochemical company in South Korea is the development of a digital platform for the safety, health and environment management system (SHE). Existing analogue processes are gradually being replaced by more efficient, digital alternatives, while artificial intelligence and big data are to help with the future-oriented optimisation of processes. Goal is this to result in a significant increase in efficiency in the processes, also through faster and uncomplicated availability of all relevant data and information. Since the start of the digitization offensive in 2017, many areas now use cutting-edge technology: drones and thermal imaging cameras are used for the inspection of petrochemical plants; maintenance is carried out predictively and risk-oriented flagged by intelligent systems.
The security aspect of the SHE system also includes managing access authorisations to the petrochemical plants, not only for the company's own employees, but also for suppliers or service providers. The modernization of this process is part of the company’s digitization campaign. Until now, this process has been analogue: the data required for access authorisation were recorded manually and passed on in paper form to the respective plant managers for approval. With subcontractors for example, this includes the order, authorization, expected duration and exact location within the plant (hazardous or non-hazardous area). Depending on the current location and workload of the plant manager, this authentication process involved long waiting periods for the external workers deployed. The new digital SHE platform is designed to significantly speed up and streamline this process. The plant managers receive the applications of external workers, including all relevant information, digitally and can approve them in real time, regardless of location.
Secure helper for process digitisation
As part of the digitalisation process, the petrochemical company went in search of a flexible terminal certified for hazardous areas that met the requirements of the digital platform. The first choice to make was the choice between smartphone and tablet. The company decided on using tablet, as the larger display offered more convenient operation for their specific needs. Looking at general compatibility, Android showed to be the preferred operating system harmonising best with the proprietary digital platform. LTE and 4G connectivity were also an important criteria to be independent of Wi-Fi even in remote locations. The main decisive factors were IT security, fast on-site support and the possibility to carry out configuration and software updates over-the-air.
All these requirements are met by the intrinsically safe Tab-Ex® tablets by the Pepperl+Fuchs brand ECOM Instruments. Based on the Samsung Tab Active tablet and Android as operating system, Tab-Ex® reliably covers updates, configuration and OEM support from Samsung in a user-friendly manner. Highest IT security standards are ensured by Samsung Knox – the most popular cybersecurity solution on the Korean market. Last but not least, the Tab-Ex® series opens up a multitude of additional application scenarios in line with the company's digitization strategy by supporting augmented reality (AR), RFID and barcode scanning.
Access management made efficient
A total of 70 Tab-Ex® tablets now support the digital workflows in the petrochemical plants. Employees, suppliers, external workers and other visitors no longer apply for access to the petrochemical plants on paper, but register digitally in the associated software on the tablets. All the data required for the authentication procedure, including the qualifications and a picture of the respective person, are stored there. The site managers receive the access request digitally in real time on their own ECOM tablet. This way they have an overview at all times of which persons with which qualifications are entering the facility for what reason, for what period of time and for what activity. Those responsible can process these requests quickly on the tablet, even remotely. The access authorisations, including all data and documents required for them, are centrally saved on the company's digital platform.
Tab-Ex® also accompanies workers for the duration of their assignment. If, for example, service providers need to stay on the company premises for a specific task longer than originally requested, they can easily apply for the extension of their stay digitally. Through mapping functions on the integrated software solution as well as the push-to-talk function (PTT), which enables rapid communication even in case of an emergency, Tab-Ex® ensures the safety of the workers throughout the entire assignment.

This not only significantly speeds up the authentication process, but also ensures complete traceability of data and thus security within the facility. With the help of the new digital solution and ECOM's tablets, plant managers not only save time but also save 10 percent in costs. At the same time they are saving on space and resources: fewer paper documents need to be properly stored on site or transported between locations.

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